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Milwaukee

On both sides, the campaign was dominated by sound bites and glossy advertisements. "There was no serious discussion about education in the election," said Rueben Harpole, a widely respected community activist who works at the Helen Bader Foundation and at the School of Education at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. "The campaigns didn't speak about how we are going to make sure that our children learn."

The MMAC organized a "Save Our Schools" Coalition focused on ridiculing a proposal to give all high school students a lap-top computer -- an idea put forward by union-supported incumbent Leon Todd. Todd spontaneously laid out his $18 million proposal a few weeks before the elections. Initially it appeared it might work to his advantage. Gardner, for instance, said that he'd support such a proposal only if there was a way "to make sure kids aren't selling them for cocaine." Some in the community were shocked that Gardner would stereotype MPS students in such a way, and predicted that the thinly veiled racism behind his comment would hurt his re-election. It didn't.

MMAC's telephone pollsters and campaign fliers hammered away at the lap-top issue and it came to dominate all five races. Gardner claimed that Taylor supported the proposal, even though she didn't. The MMAC made the same false charge against a union-backed candidate on the predominantly white South Side of Milwaukee, even though he publicly opposed the proposal.

"The lap-top issue trumped everything," said Tammy Johnson of Wisconsin Citizen Action, a group that worked closely with People For the American Way on the campaign. "People viewed it as another example of wasting our tax dollars."

The irony is that a few years earlier, business leaders had praised a similar proposal by the for-profit Edison Project when it was trying to get a foothold in Milwaukee.

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